Brazil – 7 Dead, Thousands Displaced After Floods and Landslides in North East

Heavy rain and flooding have forced over 40,000 people to evacuate their homes in two northern states of Brazil.

Persistent heavy rain since Friday 26 May caused flooding in the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas. States of emergency were declared in both states over the weekend. Officials say that at least 7 people have died

During a visit to both affected states on 28 May, President Michel Temer discussed the emergency response and promised federal support.

Pernambuco

In a report of 29 May, the Pernambuco state government said that two people had died in the flooding and more than 35,000 were displaced. Around 2,300 evacuees were being housed in public buildings and official temporary shelters. Over 33,000 had evacuated and are staying with friends or relatives.

On Sunday 28 May, Governor Paulo Câmara declared a state of emergency in 14 cities or municipalities: Belém de Maria, Palmares, Amaraji, Maraial, Ribeirão, Cortes, Barra de Guabiraba, Gameleira, São Benedito do Sul, Rio Formoso, Catende, Água Preta, Jaqueira and Barreiros.

Officials say that the levels of the Mundaú Dam stood at 40% just a few days ago, but have since reached 83%.

Agência Pernambucana de Águas e Clima (APAC) said that some areas have recorded almost 250 mm of rain in a 24 hour period, with some of the heaviest rain falling between 27 and 28 May, 2017.

Alagoas

In the neighbouring state of Alagoas, 26 cities in Alagoas have been affected by the heavy rain, according to official reports, with Maceió, Marechal Deodoro, Pilar and Rio Largo the worst hit.

Five deaths have been reported. All the victims died in mudslides in the districts of Jaqueira, Grotas do Santo Amaro and in Feitosa, in the state capital Maceió.

Four people are thought to be missing. Three people are still missing after a landslide in Grotas do Santo Amaro. One person was swept away by the overflowing Mundaú river in Satuba. Searches continue for the missing.

Evacuations have been carried out in Maceió, Marechal, Pilar and Rio Largo. It is thought that more than 4,000 families have been displaced. A state of emergency has been declared in the affected areas.

The Paraíba, Mundaú, Coruripe, San Miguel and Jacuípe rivers have all overflowed, according to official reports.

Rainfall totals over the last 7 days were 25% of normal annual averages and thought to be higher than the rainfall totals of the 2010 floods.

Pernambuco and Alagoas Floods of June 2010

Major flooding devastated parts of the two states of Pernambuco and Alagoas in June 2010. At least 51 people died and 120,000 were forced to evacuate. Entire towns and villages were destroyed.

In a report just after the event, International Rivers said:

“The center of the tragedy has been the Mundaú and Paraíba river basins in the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco, where sudden massive flooding, likened by local observers to a tsunami, devastated towns, farms, bridges and even factories. In the town of Branquinha (Alagoas), an estimated 80% of residential housing was destroyed. “

The report goes on to say that the flooding of 2010 was directly linked to a series of dam bursts along the two rivers and their tributaries.

“The dam bursts reflect a lack of adequate safeguards in the construction and maintenance of both public and private dams, the latter typically for large sugarcane plantations. In the Northeast region, it is estimated that there are at least 100,000 small and medium dams, both old and new, most of which were built with little or no regard for environmental impacts and dam safety.”

The floods were also linked to the “clearing of riparian woodlands and native vegetation on steep slopes, mainly for sugarcane monocultures, resulting in losses of water retention capacity, soil erosion and sedimentation of river channels.”

Flooding was also worsened by the lack of adequate urban planning in towns and cities along floodplains that are occupied by rivers during periods of unusually intense rainfall.